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John Nichols: “Standing Up to Donald Trump in the Republican Party … Leads to Your Defeat”

StoryAugust 17, 2022
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We look at the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries for opponents of former President Trump. In Wyoming, Liz Cheney, Trump’s chief House Republican foe, lost her primary to a Trump-backed challenger. In Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski, another Republican Trump critic, will move forward to the general election alongside a Trump challenger who also advanced under the state’s ranked-choice voting system. The races “show a clear signal: Standing up to Donald Trump in the Republican Party, by and large, leads to your defeat,” says John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation. Despite Cheney’s defeat, Nichols says she is an “extreme right-wing conservative” who is “signaling an openness to running for president of the United States.” Nichols also discusses how former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is projected to advance in the race for Alaska’s at-large congressional seat.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move on now to look at Tuesday’s primaries. Liz Cheney, Trump’s chief House Republican foe, has lost her primary in Wyoming. She addressed supporters Tuesday night in Jackson, Wyoming.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote. I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear. But it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Liz Cheney was defeated by the Trump-backed candidate, Harriet Hageman, who in 2016 said Trump would repel voters and called him racist and xenophobic. She addressed her supporters Tuesday.

HARRIET HAGEMAN: But I did not do this on my own. Obviously, we’re all very grateful to President Trump, who recognizes that Wyoming has only one congressional representative, and we have to make it count. His clear and unwavering support from the very beginning propelled us to victory tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Alaskan Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and her fellow Republican rival, Kelly Tshibaka, who was endorsed by Trump, have both advanced to November’s general election in Alaska.

For more, we go to John Nichols, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, whose latest piece is headlined “I Hope Liz Cheney Wins, but I Couldn't Vote for Her.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, she did not win. In fact, John Nichols, she was trounced. Yes, the vice chair of the January 6 committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol lost by something like — I think Hageman got two-thirds of the vote, one of the biggest trouncings in U.S. history in a primary. If you can talk about the significance of this and what this says about the Republican Party?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, Amy, thanks for having me.

And, yes, it was an absolute wipeout. In fact, when all the votes are counted, it looks like there’s a very good chance that Harriet Hageman will defeat Liz Cheney by almost 40%, something in the range of a 66-to-28 break. So, Cheney really struggled even to get a quarter of the vote in Wyoming, a state where, as she noted, she won by wide margins in the past.

What this really tells us is that Donald Trump’s control of the Republican Party continues to advance. There were 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in early 2021. Four of them decided not to seek reelection, by and large because they feared being opposed by Trump in primaries. Four more have now been defeated. Only two of them are still in the running at this point, and one of them could get beat ultimately.

So, we’ve ended up in a situation where we’ve got a clear signal: Standing up to Donald Trump in the Republican Party, by and large, leads to your defeat. It’s not always guaranteed. There will be exceptions. But those really are the exceptions to the rule. And as we head toward the November elections, the clear message is that this is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Liz Cheney’s concession speech Tuesday night.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have it. She’s talking about Abraham Lincoln losing a House race, like her, losing a Senate race, and then going on to become president. Is she telling us something, John Nichols, about what her plans are for the future?

JOHN NICHOLS: Of course she is. I’ve covered the Cheneys for a long time, and Liz Cheney since before she came to Congress. The fact of the matter is, she’s incredibly ambitious. She is ambitious for power. She wants to be a leading figure in our politics, just as her father did before her, Dick Cheney.

And so, what she’s talking about there is, first and foremost, maintaining her public profile. And she’ll do that with the January 6th committee, where, frankly, she’s done some very good work. But beyond that, I think she is signaling an openness to running for president of the United States — not announcing her candidacy, but certainly suggesting that she wouldn’t mind if people talked about it, as we are right now, and that she might do so in Republican primaries — she made a visit to New Hampshire not that long ago — or that she might do so as an independent. The bottom line is that Liz Cheney is not somebody who’s going to walk away from politics.

But the other thing to remember is that Liz Cheney is every bit as right-wing as Donald Trump, perhaps even a little more right-wing than him on some issues. And so, people should be very cautious about imagining that she would seek office in the future as some sort of moderate Republican or something like that. That’s not who she is. She has been good on standing up to Trump on these democracy issues, but the bottom line is she is an extreme right-wing conservative.

AMY GOODMAN: And then we go to Alaska. If you first can talk about ranked-choice voting? The way the media covers it is, you’ve just got to be patient, because Alaska, it takes forever for the results to come in. But explain the significance of it and why it might have saved Lisa Murkowski as she moves forward to the elections, the senator who I think Trump said he perhaps despised the most.

JOHN NICHOLS: You’re exactly right, Amy. In fact, if Donald Trump had a list of people he wanted to get rid of in this year’s elections, Liz Cheney would definitely have topped it, but Lisa Murkowski would have been very, very high on that list.

And so, Lisa Murkowski, who has opposed Trump on a number of issues, is still a moderate to conservative Republican, was facing a Trump-backed candidate, but because of ranked-choice voting, a system that allows multiple candidates to be on the ballot, lets voters rank them one through four, in the case of Alaska, or, you know, down the list, then the votes can be redistributed upwards. And so, that’s what will happen in November.

Now in the first primary, which has occurred today — or, occurred yesterday in Alaska, you have a full list of candidates, and in this case, the top four — not in a ranked-choice system, but a top four — go through to that ranked-choice election in November. And so, Lisa Murkowski will be one of the four that goes through. She will go through with a Trump-backed Republican and probably with a lesser-known Democrat and maybe another candidate, as well.

Now, when you get to that November election, the ranked-choice voting will almost certainly — it will certainly put Lisa Murkowski in the running, and it will give her a very good chance with the redistribution of votes from those two lesser candidates, or two less-known candidates, give her a very good chance of winning the election and going back to the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, there’s Sarah Palin.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sarah Palin is — she’s in two elections — or, was in two elections yesterday. In one election, which was a special election to fill the congressional seat of Don Young, a longtime Alaska congressman who passed away, she has come through in — it’s a ranked-choice election — she’s come through second to a woman named Mary Peltola, who has run a very good, very strong campaign as a Democrat, but there is another Republican in that ranked-choice vote, a guy named Nick Begich. His votes are likely to be redistributed more to Palin than to the Democrat, and so there is a decent chance that Palin will win, but not a certainty here. And so we’ve got to watch how that ranked-choice redistribution goes. That may take a couple weeks.

The other thing, the second race that Palin was in is for November. She is one of the top four. So is the Democrat we spoke about. So is Nick Begich. And so, we’re going to do this all over again in November with ranked choice.

I think the real takeaway here, though, is that there is a very substantial vote for a progressive Democrat in Alaska, and that, you know, we should always look at these states that the people often write off as all Republican and these are only looking at the Republican races. The fact of the matter is that a progressive Democrat did very, very well in Alaska last night.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, very quickly, go across the country. Pennsylvania, the Senate race that could determine the balance of the Senate, Mehmet Oz versus Fetterman, who just survived a very serious health challenge, so you have the cardiologist versus the heart patient. He has been mocked — that is, Mehmet Oz — for going into a grocery store, naming it wrong, and talking about he was getting ingredients for crudité for his wife.

JOHN NICHOLS: It’s an incredible race. Look, the bottom line is this: John Fetterman, who has had some health challenges, is back on the trail. He had a huge rally the other day in Erie, where they opened up with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blaring and the crowd cheering. And the fact of the matter is that Fetterman is running a very deep grassroots Pennsylvania campaign, looks to be well ahead in the polls. And Dr. Oz, who lived in New Jersey before he got into this race —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

JOHN NICHOLS: — seems to keep on — he seems to keep on stumbling. He looks like a candidate that Trump put ahead into the final race, but not somebody that Trump can get elected.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, we want to thank you for being with us, The Nation's national affairs correspondent. We'll link to your piece, “I Hope Liz Cheney Wins, but I Couldn’t Vote for Her.” That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Wear a mask. Stay safe.

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